The Greenville Swamp Rabbits returned to action on Friday and Saturday for two back-to-back games in Norfolk, Virginia, against the Admirals. An incredible player performance was displayed at Norfolk Scope Arena when the Rabbits were ready to strike for goals and, most importantly, a needed win(s). Before they played in Norfolk, their current record was 29-16-8, with a 57% win percentage and 170 goals scored overall—pretty Impressive stats. However, as of now (March 7, 2023), the Swamp Rabbits are in 7th place in the east, have 181 goals scored, 8th in the league (ahead of Everblades but below division rivals Stingrays and Icemen), and rank high in PK advantages of 161 of 209—according to ECHL statistics and standings. The long road trip from Greenville to Norfolk was exciting for fans and the players because it had been nearly a week since they last played a game. With the decently long break from playing, the Rabbits were well rested and recouped on game-plan and strategies. Despite their current stats (13-39-3-1; 150 goals scored; 28 of 188 PP advantages; and 23.20% win percentage), the Admirals can be a competitive team to play against, especially on home ice, but the Rabbits weren’t going to stop until they won. For the first game on Friday, the Rabbits started slow with little action, recording only six shots on Admiral’s goalie Vomacka in the first period and one Power Play advantage.
During the first period, the Rabbits scored at 7:08 by #16 Ethan Somoza laying a heavy wrister on Vomacka, but it wasn’t from their first and only PP of the 1st. The Admirals would find themselves short-handed after the 1st, being scoreless heading into the 2nd period, despite recording more shots on goal of 9 on Greenvilles star goaltender Ryan Bednard. With the return of Ryan Bednard, who got called up to AHL Vancouver two weeks ago for a PTOC, the Rabbits could rest easy knowing that their star goalie was back in the lineup and ready to make more incredible saves on goal. Jumping into the 2nd period, the Rabbits would start the period off strong from having the lead by getting a two-goal lead at 1:14 of the period. The goal was scored by #17 Josh McKechney, who laid a shot from an excellent pass from #14 Alex Ierullo. Currently, Alex Ierullo is 4th in the league for goal points of 50 points and has 20 goals and 46 assists as of March 8, 2023. With the first minute of the madness of Greenville scoring, the Rabbits weren’t done yet! At 2:23, #8 Brandon McManus wrist the puck past Vomacka from a pass by Tanner Eberle on a two-on-one into Norfolk’s zone. The Rabbits were not playing around and were hungry to score In the 2nd period, with Norfolk being scoreless and trailing by three goals three minutes into the 2nd.
However, that lead would shortly end into the second, with Admirals Bowen shooting the puck into the net as their line was in Greenvilles zone at 4:26. That goal seemed to have given the Admiral’s energy and momentum to score again, and they did. Over two minutes after scoring their first goal, the Admirals would score again at 6:42 by McCormick thanks to a power play and trail by just one goal to tie it with thirteen minutes left in the period to work with. This seemed to have gotten to the Rabbits; if they were to keep up the lead and refrain from getting to a tied game in the 2nd, they would have to score again. And so they did. After much advance pressure on Norfolk’s zone, the Rabbits would score right in their zone by #14 Alex Ierullo at 11:11, with the assist by Ayden MacDonald and Bobby Russell. Seeing the Rabbits assist leader score at such an important time to have a more comprehensive lead is interesting. With immense optimism on Greenvilles bench, the Rabbits believed they could hold the two-goal lead heading into the third. However, that wouldn’t be the case. At 15:04, the Admirals would go right into the Rabbit’s zone and put up shot after shot, pass after pass to score. And, unfortunately, that effort would pay off. Rabbits goalie Ryan Bednard would block a shot from Norfolks forward Bowen, but the puck would be loose in the crease, and Admirals forward Smirnov would push it in the net as Bednard was lying down on the ice from making the previous save.
With five minutes left in the 2nd, the Rabbits held the one-goal lead with a score of 4-3. both teams had scored six goals in just the 2nd period. It’s safe to say that this was not a dull period to watch at home on TV or in Norfolk. But, as things couldn’t get worse for the Rabbit’s lead, they certainly did. After over a minute, when Norfolk was trailing by one, the Admirals would score again to tie the game from a two-on-one into Greenvilles zone. The 2nd period would end as a tied game of 4-4. Greenville’s defense and offense would have to up their game into the 3rd to take the win. Well, let’s say that did happen. Upon the first five minutes of the 3rd, the Rabbits would bolt to the Admirals zone, pass many times to their teammates and shoot multiple times when they had an opening. With that zone pressure, the Admirals lineup would be burnt, and that worked out for the Rabbits, as a pass from Josh McKechney to a shot by Ethan Somoza would go right past Admirals tendy Vomacka. And thus, the tie would be broken, and Rabbits would be back in the lead of 5-4.
Though the Admirals would retaliate by going into Greenvilles zone to shoot several shots and up their forecheck, it wouldn’t pay off. The Rabbit’s defense learned from the last period and was on par to keep their thin lead intact. When the final minute of regulation was about to come, the Rabbits would strike once more to get another goal in to call it a night. The Rabbits would get a power play with less than two minutes of regulation left at 18:38 because of a too-many-men penalty, and they would use that to their advantage as Ethan Somoza would net in his first ECHL career hat-trick. Although it wasn’t at home ice in Greenville, a first-career hat trick is certainly a crowning achievement. The Rabbits would call it a night in Norfolk by taking the dub of a score of 6-4, but the stay at Norfolk was only beginning…
The next day, Saturday, March 4, 2023, the Rabbits returned to Norfolk Scope Arena for their 2nd and final game in Norfolk. With this being a back-to-back game, Greenville back-up goalie David Hrenak and Norfolks goalie Morris would get the nods from their coaches to start. With the first few minutes of the 1st period, the game was pretty slow; the Admirals and Rabbits would go into the opposite zones to score, but nothing would go through. However, at 7:14, Rabbits alternate captain Ben Freeman would strike first and net his 6th goal of the season, and the team would have the lead. Though with the first goal, neither the Admirals nor Rabbits would score in the remainder of the 1st period, with Greenville having 12 shots and Norfolk having four shots on goal. Jumping into the 2nd, the first few minutes consisted of forechecking from the Admirals and Rabbits and multiple shots on goal. Despite the effort from the Admirals, however, the Rabbits would be the first to strike again in the period, with Ben Freeman netting another beauty at 5:46 of a short-handed goal.
This would be Freemans second goal of the game, seventh of the season, and one goal away from getting a hat trick like what fellow teammate Somoza did. This lead would give the Rabbits a lot of energy and momentum in the 2nd, as four minutes later, after Freemans second goal, they would get into a three-goal lead. Max Martin would net his 10th goal of the season from a pass by Dallas Gerads and Anthony Beauchamp, which is fitting for his number being #10. This three-goal lead for the Rabbits would continue for about 9 minutes, with the Admirals trying to net in their first goal, but for the most part, after the Rabbit’s 3rd goal, the shots would be denied by Hrenak. That was until 18:42, when the Admirals would get a two-on-one, with Rabbits defenseman LA Grissom and Hrenak being the only ones to hold down the fort. But the effort from Grissom and Hrenak to protect their net wouldn’t be enough, as a pass from Admirals forward Burgess and a wrister from Forward #18 Blachman would go above Hrenak.
The 2nd period would conclude 3-1, with the Rabbits still holding the lead ahead of the 3rd period; the Rabbits would record 12 shots on goal, again, and the Admirals would record more shots than the last period of 13. Upon the first minute of the 3rd, the Rabbits would, once again, strike first. Josh McKechney would net his 10th goal of the season with the Rabbits, with the assist by Ayden MacDonald and Alex Ierullo. The score would be 4-1 Rabbits, with 19 minutes left to play in the 3rd. Despite the score, the Admirals would forecheck a lot to gain possession of the puck, and whenever they had the puck, they would shoot as much as possible toward Hrenaks net. But, the effort wouldn’t be enough to score at all in the 3rd, due to the Rabbit’s defensive lines and tendy Hrenak denying every possible chance. Fast forward to 15:40, assist leader Alex Ierullo would get a breakaway into Norfolk’s zone and score. The 2022-2023 ECHL All-Star would show off his skill exactly how he did in January for the All-Star event in Norfolk. Ierullo, if given a chance for a breakaway into the offensive end, will likely score. His perception and stick-handling skills are pretty impressive for the Toronto native, and it’s clear why the league chose him to be an All-Star.
Though the Admirals would receive two power plays in the 3rd to help advance their lead, nothing came of it, and the game would end 5-1 Greenville; the Rabbits put up quite an impressive show with an improved defense compared to the last game, and the same but enhanced offense. With the loss, the Admirals seemed very agitated. They decided to put up a show for the fans, as forward Blachman targeted Rabbits d-man Grissom in a scrum after the last whistle of less than a minute left in regulation. Admirals attempted to instigate a fight on Grissom, but Grissom wouldn’t budge; the game was over, and the win was given to the Rabbits. The three-person officials for the ECHL would separate the lines from both teams to end the game and assess multiple penalties on Blachman: Unsportsmanlike conduct, cross-checking minor and misconduct for a continued altercation, and a roughing minor for Admirals forward Foss. Perhaps the numerous penalties would be worth it for the Admirals, as the Norfolk crowd loved it.